CSIRO shark report reignites debate in light of decline

Australia’s peak scientific body has called for more research into the state’s great white shark population, after a report found numbers were declining.

The Commonwealth and Scientific Research Organisation’s report found there had been no increase in the South West population, instead finding a ‘downward trend’ in adult numbers since the early 2000s.

There were two distinct white shark populations identified in Australia, the eastern Australasian white shark population in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand and the south western white shark population in South Australia, Western Australia and western Victoria.

The research indicated there were around 750 adults in the eastern Australasian white shark population and almost double that number in the south-western region, with both found to have very high survival rates of 90 per cent.

The CSIRO have reiterated calls made by Fisheries minister Dave Kelly for further research into the southern-western population.

Following the report’s release, Mr Kelly said he had asked the Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg to commit more funding to research into the south western white shark population but was ‘ignored’.

“On several occasions, I have asked the Federal Environment Minister to commit more funding for research into the southern-western white shark population,” he said.

“Like so many other requests from WA, including a fairer share of GST, this request has been ignored.

“Since coming into government, we have introduced a number of new shark mitigation measures based on new technology and science, including the use of drones and personal shark deterrents.

“We will continue to look at any new measures that are proven to actually make our beaches safer.”

Vasse MP Libby Mettam said the Fisheries Minister was endangering the lives of ocean users in WA by knowingly distorting the facts around shark numbers.

Ms Mettam said the Minister’s claim that the number of adult great white sharks had not increased ignored the fact that the data did not include juvenile sharks under four metres in length and was aimed at deflecting attention from the fact the WA shark population was double that of the East Coast.

“The Minister is using this single fact as justification for his government’s failure to develop a comprehensive shark mitigation policy to better protect WA ocean users,” she said.

“We also cannot underestimate the impact this is having on tourism with the last three major water events in the Margaret River Region cancelled or disrupted due to intruding sharks.”

Ms Mettam said she could not understand the government’s continued stubborn refusal to even consider options other than a $200 subsidy on a single product for 2000 people.

“No policy other than not to allow anyone to swim anywhere in the ocean is going to completely eliminate the risk of shark attack but that is not an excuse to do nothing,” she said.

“Smart drum lines, which are not operated to kill sharks but to manage and track them, clever bouys, netting and population management – which may include reopening shark fisheries – should all be options on the table for this Government.

No policy other than not to allow anyone to swim anywhere in the ocean is going to completely eliminate the risk of shark attack but that is not an excuse to do nothing.

Libby Mettam, Vasse MP

“The reality is there have been 15 fatal shark attacks in WA since 2000, many in my electorate of Vasse.

“In the absence of any significant management by the McGowan Government we can only expect this number to grow.”

O'Connor MP Rick Wilson said the report confirmed the state government ‘must take action now’.

“Since 2000, there has been one fatal shark attack on the east coast compared to 15 for the same period in WA,” he said.

“The state government has made a decision that lethal mitigation measures are off the table and that’s their call, but they need to do something to protect the people of WA.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that the State Government is spending millions of dollars on seasonal surveillance programs in Perth and a few South West beaches, but they’ve got nothing for the South Coast.”

Mr Wilson said he had been discussing shark mitigation options with a number of Esperance locals, including filmmaker Dave Riggs and Ocean Safety and Support Group founder Mitch Capelli, about using similar technology to what the state fovernment has in place in Perth.

“I’ll be forwarding a proposal for a surveillance and warning system to the Minister within the next few weeks and I’ll be expecting that he gives it due consideration in the interest of protecting ocean users on the South Coast,” he said.